Archive for March, 2009

About Auto and Bank Executives

March 31, 2009

I am no expert on Autos but I am glad the GMC CEO is gone and I would like to see all the banks CEO’s, that screwed with public funds,  gone and the shareholders can follow these CEO’s.

We drove to Choteau in a friends leather-seated Toyota Camry and I was impressed that the car was a hybrid, plenty luxurious and the radio/CD player worked great.

We drove to a great birdful place and got fuel efficiency and comfort to boot.

There is a huge disconnect between Auto-Executives, Bank Executives and the American people, wide enough to stick global warming between this huge disconnect!!!!!!!



Freezeout Lake

March 29, 2009

Freezeout Lake is on the front-range of the Rocky Mountains near a town called Choteau, probably most known for nearby colonies of fossil nesting dinosaurs, and Nature Conservancy Ranch with grizzly bears that come way out on the plains and along the Teton River near an area called Pine Butte Swamp.

Choteau has a restaurant where an elk call is used to tell a waitress when an order of food is up. In Choteau you have a lot of cowboys, paleontologists and tourists.

We saw about 150,000 snow geese and maybe 1000 Tundra Swans at the Lake, staging in their northward push from Oregan and Utah.

We saw Redheaded Ducks, Common Goldeneye, American Widgeon, Pintail Ducks, Golden Eagle, Ring-necked Pheasant, Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Horned Lark, singing Meadowlark and so on.

It was quite a spectacle and the goose calls were deafening. There were so many of them….they flew in formation, large flocks, overhead.

It was a very primival site and what a way to start the spring migration of birds.

On the drive there and home we saw a lot of mule deer, some whitetail deer,and antelope. Pine bark beetle rust was most notable in the Gates of the Mountains and Helena, Montana area.

We saw a Butte the locals call Haystack. In the distance was Castle Reef, and there was a headwater dammed lake to the Sun River and major east entrance to the Bob Marshall Wilderness; Gibson Resevoir. I scanned the horizon for wolves…no luck.

It was quite a start to the spring migration of birds and living proof to me that there is still much to see in my backyard.


Global Warming Myths and Facts

March 23, 2009

What a great article. A great read that makes a lot of sense. There are good guys in the press and they are all not named Eilperin or Kaufman.


By Chris Mooney
Saturday, March 21, 2009; A13

A recent controversy over claims about climate science by Post op-ed columnist George F. Will raises a critical question: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation?

Congress will soon consider global-warming legislation, and the debate comes as contradictory claims about climate science abound. Partisans of this issue often wield vastly different facts and sometimes seem to even live in different realities.

In this context, finding common ground will be very difficult. Perhaps the only hope involves taking a stand for a breed of journalism and commentary that is not permitted to simply say anything; that is constrained by standards of evidence, rigor and reproducibility that are similar to the canons of modern science itself.

Consider a few of Will’s claims from his Feb. 15 column, “Dark Green Doomsayers“: In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth. Just last year, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a peer-reviewed study examining media coverage at the time and the contemporary scientific literature. While some media accounts did hype a cooling scare, others suggested more reasons to be concerned about warming. As for the published science? Reviewing studies between 1965 and 1979, the authors found that “emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.”

Yet there’s a bigger issue: It’s misleading to draw a parallel between “global cooling” concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming — through the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific academies of various nations (including our own), and leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

Will wrote that “according to the University of Illinois ‘ Arctic Climate Research Center , global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” It turns out to be a relatively meaningless comparison, though the Arctic Climate Research Center has clarified that global sea ice extent was “1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979.” Again, though, there’s a bigger issue: Will’s focus on “global” sea ice at two arbitrarily selected points of time is a distraction. Scientists pay heed to long-term trends in sea ice, not snapshots in a noisy system. And while they expect global warming to reduce summer Arctic sea ice, the global picture is a more complicated matter; it’s not as clear what ought to happen in the Southern Hemisphere. But summer Arctic sea ice is indeed trending downward, in line with climatologists’ expectations — according to the Arctic Climate Research Center .

Will also wrote that “according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMONASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 — we haven’t had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that “global cooling” sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons — 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El Niño — study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it’s far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s — again, according to the WMO.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists — following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It’s also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be — now more than ever.

Chris Mooney is the author of “The Republican War on Science” and co-author of the forthcoming “Unscientific America : How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.”

Environmental or “Green” Efficiancy

March 22, 2009

I was watching Meet The Press and I heard Aaron ? say that person’s aspired to have 3 cars. I do not know these person’s. In almost 30 years as an adult I do not remember once a person aspiring to have 3 cars. Those kind of person’s are few and far between in the world as I know it. I have seen large houses with more than 3 cars parked in the driveway. These eccess cars belonged to younger adults from the 2 car family.

What I did notice is that if the parents drove hogs or gas guzzlers the youth of the family tended to do so. I looked for these kind of things but never wagged a finger but I did shake my head to myself at times.

You know I would leave my computer on at times because it seemed to allow me to get to whatever I was working on a lot faster. I learned that that was a wasteful habit  and now have no trouble turning off my computer now that I am aware it is a problem.

So what does that have to do with environmental or “green” efficiency…it has a lot to do with this kind of efficiency?

 I have seen a barage of all levels of society looking for realistic ways that they can become more efficient from an envirenmental or “green” way that will help the planet. To the letter those persons are willing to sacrafice at some level, as yet untapped, to help out. Most people I have talked to feel that they have yet to be asked to help out environmentally. I hear a lot of this but never have I heard anyone aspiring to have 3 cars.

Is it just me or is Aaron? out of touch with people in her own country? She work’s on CNBC and looks at the finance aspirations of Wall Street. She said she was born along highway 50 which goes right through the heart of this country and is the best means of telling anyone what this country is aspiring for (I mean interview person’s along that highway) and not people in Washington D.C.’s alls 0f federal power.         

I see a real disconnect on people in power, the press and folks out in the countryside on my issue…global warming…and on the current financial mess. I hope that our short-term US goals do not derail the important moves on energy that our country needs to make in the near political future nd I hope it does not take something like pain at the pump or being held energy hostage by another country to get us in the US to the point where we as a country produce clean energy.

We do have to get countries like China, and India to follow suit like us on global warming and environmental efficiency without wagging their finger’s at the US, the world’ds leading transgressor on fossil fuels but also it’s greatest hope to convert to clean energy and a more efficient lifestyle.

Economy Versus Environment

March 21, 2009

This is truely sad because you cannot have a truely vibrant economy without a truely vibrant environment.

You know I walk home from morning coffee and see two gas guzzler cars with “Obama Mama” stickers left over from the presidential race on them. I see a Jeep Wagoneer parked outside of a house with Tibetan Prayer Flags draped across the front yard and at least one old pickup with the sticker “peace has a price” on the back bumper, a SUV with a Montana Wildlands sticker on its bumper and so on.

I cannot help but think some of these folks would drive a hybrid or efficient car if they were told about the harm they are causing our environment by driving gas guzzlers.

 I used to work around this town for extra money, driving a pick up that had lots of space in the back and was small and more gas efficient than 90 per cent of the cars I see around here.  I drove that small pick up around here 15 years ago.

I no at least 2 people who drive gas hogs now who would stop driving those hogs in a minute if they could get an affordable, efficient car to exchange for and leaders would tell them specifically not to drive the gas hogs because it is harmful to our environment.

I no good folks who were really struggling when gas prices shot up, they tried hard to mitigate their lifestyles as fuel-prices shot up…to save money. They are more complacent now as gas prices are down. They could definitely be coaxed into more green lifestyles and would drive less flashy  ,non gas guzzling cars if they felt those cars were within financial reach or they felt that changing car’s really helped and helped their pocket books. They need to be shown in a consumer friendly, non-slick way.

You know what gets me is that we can afford to have a vibrant economy and a vibrant environment. One begets another, but we need leadership on this issue that shows the average American why changing technologies is good for the pocket and the environment.

It is sad that most folks barely tolerate their gadfly friend who fingerwags and blurts out what seems common sensical.

As an example of the above I will use the subject of gardening since it is one of those things that has been with society from the start but because Michelle Obama is doing it the press looks at it as new.

When Michelle Obama does it there is a press entrage at the Whitehouse to record it and the same persons who barely tolerated their gadfly friend showing and saying they should garden veggies to save money are watching Michelle Obama and thinking she is on to something…maybe she is.

I could go on but you get the point. I find the point easier to make now that I do not drive at all.


by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ — For the first time in Gallup’s 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.

Gallup first asked Americans about this trade-off in 1984, at which time over 60% chose the environmental option. Support for the environment was particularly high in 1990-1991, and in the late 1990s and 2000, when the dot-com boom perhaps made economic growth more of a foregone conclusion.

The percentage of Americans choosing the environment slipped below 50% in 2003 and 2004, but was still higher than the percentage choosing the economy. Sentiments have moved up and down over the last several years, but this year, the percentage of Americans choosing the environment fell all the way to 42%, while the percentage choosing the economy jumped to 51%.

The reason for this shift in priorities almost certainly has to do with the current economic recession. The findings reflect many recent Gallup results showing how primary the economy is in Americans’ minds, and help document the fact of life that in times of economic stress, the public can be persuaded to put off or ignore environmental concerns if need be in order to rejuvenate the economy.

The Economy Versus Energy
Although the importance of energy as a policy concern in Americans’ minds has moderated since last summer’s high gas prices, a different trade-off question shows that Americans are more inclined now than in past years to favor giving the priority to energy production over the environment.

The question, which Gallup has used in this format since 2001, asks Americans whether they favor protection of the environment at the risk of limiting energy supplies, or favor the development of U.S. energy supplies at the risk of harming the environment. Respondents this year are essentially equally likely to choose the environmental option as they are to choose the energy production option, marking — albeit by just one or two percentage points — the highest percentage choosing energy and the lowest percentage choosing the environment in the nine years of asking the question.

There are, predictably, significant partisan differences in the responses to these trade-off questions.

As can be seen in the accompanying graph, only 50% of Democrats, who typically have been the most environmentally oriented in their policy positions, opt for the environmental protection position — just six points higher than the percentage of Democrats choosing economic growth. (Republicans and independents are more likely to choose economic growth.) This finding suggests that the economic crisis may present a real philosophical dilemma to those who ordinarily are strongly supportive of environmental protection, but who may back off in the face of the perceived need to restore economic growth.

The partisan spread is somewhat larger for the trade-off question dealing with energy and the environment. Republicans and Democrats are almost perfect mirror images of each other in response to this question, with two-thirds of Republicans opting for energy over the protection of the environment, while two-thirds of Democrats hold the opposite view.

Bottom Line
There is little question that the current economic crisis poses a significant challenge for the environmental movement in this country. Previous Gallup research has shown that concern about global warming has diminished this year, and the research reviewed here shows clearly that Americans are more willing than ever to forgo protection of the environment if needed in order to ensure economic growth or the production of energy. With the economy as bad as it has been in recent memory, Americans’ preferences have swung even more strongly in the direction of the economy over the environment.

Survey Methods
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-8, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Polar Bears Are Endangered By Climate Change

March 20, 2009

Lots of Global Warming News To Catch Up On. It is all relevent to this blog.


NEW YORK: Five countries that created a treaty nearly four decades ago to protect polar bears through controlled hunting issued a statement that called climate change “the most important long-term threat” to the bears.

The statement came in Tromso, Norway, on Thursday at the end of a three-day meeting of scientists and officials from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States, all with territory abutting the Arctic Ocean that serves as habitat for the bears. (Denmark was represented through Greenland, which is moving toward becoming an independent country.)

Polar bear experts at the meeting said the treaty parties were committed to collaborating on programs aimed at limiting direct threats to bear populations from tourism, shipping and oil and gas drilling in the warming region.

But they said the countries bound by the 1973 bear agreement would be unable, without worldwide cooperation, to address the looming risk to the species: the prospect that global warming from accumulating emissions of greenhouse gases would continue to erode the sheath of Arctic sea ice that the half-ton bears roam in pursuit of seals.

In a telephone interview from Tromso, Rosa Meehan, the division chief in Alaska for marine mammals management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agreement — among countries with a range of environmental views — signaled the strength of the science pointing to perils for the bears.

“Polar bears are facing a pretty rough road,” Dr. Meehan said. “The thing we need to do is look to the global community to seriously address and mitigate climate change.”

The Norwegian government posted background on the meeting online at

The species has probably existed across the Arctic for several hundred thousand years, researchers say. The animals are resilient, eating walrus, grasses and even snow-geese eggs when they cannot hunt their preferred prey, bearded and ringed seals.

The bears were greatly depleted by ungoverned hunting across much of the Arctic until the Soviet Union clamped down in 1956 and other countries followed, with the 1973 treaty one result.

The current population across the Arctic has been estimated at 22,000 to 25,000 bears.

But last year the U.S. Interior Department granted the bears threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, citing the threat from retreating summertime sea ice.

Other countries have been ratcheting up protections, though about 700 bears are still shot each year in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, according to Norway.

Not everyone from countries ringing the Arctic agrees that the bears’ fate is so closely tied to climate change.

Fernando Ugarte, head of mammal and bird science at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, said Greenland’s government was concerned that the rising pressure to protect bears, particularly in the face of global warming, might prompt other countries to press Greenland to clamp down on hunting.

“I am not sure there is a scientific reason to appoint polar bears as the main icon of climate change,” he said by telephone in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. “There’s a long list of animals that will be affected. Why not the walrus, the narwhal, the ringed seal?”

Mr. Ugarte said scientists disagreed over why people in the settlements around Baffin Bay and elsewhere had reported an increase in polar bear sightings in recent years. One explanation may be that the local bear population is robust. Another, more likely in Mr. Ugarte’s opinion, is that climate change is forcing the bears into new migration patterns.

The Tromso meeting was watched closely by environmental groups, which had warned that some countries might press to exclude strong language about global warming.

The bears have been enduring symbols in climate campaigns conducted by such groups, with at least three groups seeking contributions through “adopt a polar bear” programs. But the animals have also become a focal point for some elected officials and scientists who reject the need for cuts in the heat-trapping greenhouse gases, despite broad scientific consensus linking the gases to warming since 1950.

Their argument, pointing to studies by American government scientists and other groups, is that hunting restrictions have caused most of the populations of bears around the Arctic to grow in recent decades and that long-term forecasts of ice retreats are flawed.

Dr. Meehan said it was “apples and oranges” to challenge concerns about trends in climate and ice conditions on the basis of the turnaround for the bears through hunting controls. The bears, she said, are exquisitely adapted to hunting and killing seals on sea ice, and as that ice retreats — particularly in prime feeding periods in spring and summer — they will have a tougher time surviving.

Climate Change Will Have An Impact on US birds According to US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the States

March 20, 2009

I found this very interesting and copied it for you to read.


more than 800 bird species in the United States are endangered, threatened or in decline due to climate change, habitat loss, and invasive species, finds the first comprehensive report ever produced on U.S. bird populations.


At a news conference in Washington today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released the report, which was developed by a partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

“Just as they were when Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring” nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems,” Salazar said. “From shorebirds in New England to warblers in Michigan to songbirds in Hawaii, we are seeing disturbing downward population trends that should set off environmental alarm bells. We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about.”

The I’iwi is unique to the Hawaiian islands and classed as Vulnerable to extinction. (Photo by Jack Jeffrey Photo courtesy DOI)

In Hawaii, more birds are in danger of extinction than anywhere else in the United States. More than one-third of all bird species listed under the Endangered Species Act occur in Hawaii and 71 bird species have gone extinct since people came to the islands in about 300 AD. At least 10 more bird species have not been seen in 40 years and may be extinct.

Dr. Sam Gon III, senior scientist and cultural advisor for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, said that too many Hawaiian bird species are on the brink and more money is needed to address the primary cause – destruction and loss of native habitat.

“Considering the heroic efforts that are needed to control habitat loss and degradation, as well as direct threats such as disease and invasion by non-native plants and animals, much more support should be directed toward habitat protection in Hawaii,” Gon said.

“It’s been shown in our native forests, for example, that when efforts are made to stabilize habitat for one species, the benefits are enjoyed by the many species that share that habitat,” he said.

The report calls for greater investment to protect remaining Hawaiian forests that shelter rare birds, elimination of invasive predators, and captive breeding of endangered species before they too vanish into extinction.

Elsewhere birds are also in trouble, the report finds. Grassland birds are among the fastest declining birds in North America – 48 percent are of conservation concern and 55 percent are showing significant declines.

High commodity prices and demand for biofuels contribute to reduced acreage for farm conservation programs. Wind turbines, if improperly sited, can fragment grasslands and disrupt nesting activity of birds such as lesser prairie-chickens.

Global warming is expected to increase drought conditions in grassland regions, leading to reduced food for birds. Conversion of grasslands to agriculture has destroyed habitat and pumped pesticides and other toxics into the environment.

Invasive plants and animals are major threats. Domestic and feral cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. Island nesting birds, particularly seabirds, are vulnerable since they nest on the ground or in burrows and are preyed upon by rats, foxes, cats, dogs, and mongooses.

Western meadowlark, a grassland bird in decline, was designated the Nebraska official state bird in 1929. (Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth courtesy FWS)

The accelerated pace of urban, suburban, and commercial development in the United States threatens the integrity of every major habitat, from continued draining of wetlands and destruction of coastal marshes, to loss and fragmentation of forests, aridlands, and grasslands because of suburban sprawl. Many birds die when they collide with buildings.

Most U.S. forest ecosystems have been fragmented by logging, road building, tree plantations, and fire suppression. More than 85 percent of old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest has been eliminated, leading to the listing of the Northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In arid regions of the West where 30 percent of bird species are in decline, excessive grazing has degraded grasslands and denuded streamside areas where most bird species forage and breed. Overfishing in oceans has led to bird starvation and nesting failures.

Yet, the report finds places where habitat restoration and conservation have reversed previous declines, particularly in waterfowl species, offering hope that action to save vanishing populations might still be effective.

Covering the past 40 years, “The U.S. State of the Birds,” synthesizes data from three long-running bird population surveys conducted by thousands of citizen scientists and professional biologists.

At the news conference, John Fitzpatrick from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology earned laughs and agreement from all speakers with his comment that “citizen science rocks.”

“Data in this report were collected not by a few pinhead scientists but by millions of individuals who found that science is fun,” Fitzpatrick said. “With a few minutes a year we can begin to pull together massive databases that show us not just the broad base but the smaller habitats – we are getting huge amounts of data.”

Data comes from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, administered by the U.S. Geological Survey and Canadian Wildlife Service, and conducted at more than 4,000 sites by volunteer observers, providing data for 365 breeding species since 1968.

For 120 species that breed elsewhere but winter within the U.S., the report used trends from the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

Trends for 13 waterfowl species were provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service from the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, conducted by pilots and wildlife biologists.

Wood Stork alighting at Hontoon Dead River in Florida. Wood storks are federally listed as endangered. (Photo by Mehmet Karatay)

“The birds are sending us a wake-up call that the habitat destruction, climate change and shortsighted environmental policies of the past are combining to take a serious toll. We must address the warming of our climate and the loss of vital habitat through policy and on-the-ground action at every level,” warned said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society.

“This report makes clear the need for urgent individual, collective and government action, and leaves little doubt that taking action can make a difference. Together, we can safeguard not only our birds, but the environment that sustains us all,” he said.

“Audubon has sent this message before, and now, thanks to all who played a role in the 2009 U.S. State of the Birds Report, the birds’ warning will be heard by more Americans than ever before – including our representatives in Congress and in our state capitals, and policy-makers in our communities.”

Secretary Salazar said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be better funded by the Obama administration than it had been during the Bush years. “When we look back to last decade you see the Department of the Interior budget continued to decline to be one of bottom end budgets of all federal agencies. This impacts the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he said, “because they don’t have the funding to get the job done.

“The stimulus package funds the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the money will be out on the ground in the next couple of weeks,” the secretary promised.

Money invested in bird conservation will pay back big dividends, said Darren Schroeder of the American Bird Conservancy. “Bird watching contributes $45 billion to our economy every year, but many species are in decline and some are threatened with extinction. One-third of all birds listed under the Endangered Species Act are Hawaiian birds, but under the previous administration they got only four percent of ESA species recovery funds.”

Secretary Salazar said the listing and delisting of endangered bird species will be guided by science. “Science will show us the way.” He called the report “a clarion call to action.”

Salazar said the Obama administration will take on “the difficult but necessary undertaking of dealing with climate change.”

“We are seeing we are having impacts on our bird species,” the secretary said. “President Obama says we will have a new strategy for climate change for America.


March 19, 2009

Computer problems. Back tommorow.


Department of Energy…Wrong Priorities Imposed Upon It Even With the Proper-Thinking Obama Adminisration

March 18, 2009

New York Times (NY)

March 18, 2009

Section: A

A Nuclear Waste


I read this and believe it to be so typical of the bad aspect of government and overwhelm for Obama and company.


Kensington , Md. PRESIDENT OBAMA has made clean and efficient energy a top priority, and Congress has obliged with more than $32 billion in stimulus money mostly for conservation and alternative energy technologies like wind, solar and biofuel. Sadly, the Energy Department is too weighed down by nuclear energy programs to devote itself to bringing about the revolution Mr. Obama envisions.

Today, the department’s main task is managing the thousands of facilities involved in producing nuclear weapons during the cold war, and the associated cleanup of dozens of contaminated sites. Approximately two-thirds of its annual budget, which is roughly $27 billion, is spent on these activities, while only 15 percent is allocated for all energy programs, including managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and researching and developing new technologies.

The department, after all, has nuclear weapons in its DNA. It is essentially an offshoot of the Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian-run agency established in 1946 to continue the work of the Manhattan Project and to investigate the possibility of developing civilian nuclear energy. In 1974, Congress voted to abolish the commission, turning over the weapons activities to a new Energy Research and Development Administration and setting up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The former was disbanded three years later and replaced by the Department of Energy.

Given the department’s origins, it is not surprising that nuclear programs have won out over other energy technologies. Of the $135.4 billion spent on energy research and development from 1948 to 2005 (in constant 2004 dollars), more than half, or $74 billion, went to nuclear energy, while fossil-fuel programs received a quarter, or $34.1 billion. The leftovers went for alternatives, with renewables getting $13 billion, or 10 percent, and energy efficiency $12 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report written in 2006.

That historical pattern of spending continues to this day. This year nuclear energy research is receiving $1.7 billion, including for a weapons-related fusion program being touted for its supposed energy potential. Nuclear weapons programs are getting $6.4 billion, with an additional $6.5 billion allocated to environmental cleanup. Millions more are spent on efforts to reduce the risk of weapons proliferation, and recovering nuclear and radioactive materials from around the world.

Against this background, alternative energy solutions are but an afterthought: in the current fiscal year, for example, all of $1.1 billion is apportioned for programs falling under this category, not including the stimulus money.

The stimulus package, intended to be spent over two years, places huge demands on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. But if Mr. Chu wishes to avoid getting dragged down by the nuclear undertow, the Energy Department must be relieved of duties that aren’t related to energy.

The good news is that some in Washington already recognize this need. President Obama’s new Office of Management and Budget director, Peter Orszag, has put on the table moving the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees a significant chunk of the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons activity, into the Defense Department.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Orszag faces stiff opposition, not least from Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico. As chairman of the Senate energy committee, Mr. Bingaman may be trying to fill the shoes of Pete Domenici, who for years dominated the panel and helped ensure a steady flow of money to the weapons labs, including Los Alamos in New Mexico .

But such detractors must recognize that the cold war is over, and global warming and the need for energy independence require bold initiatives that today’s Energy Department is simply not equipped to take. The department needs a major reorganization along the lines of the one that took place in 1974, when the old Atomic Energy Commission was split up. Shifting the nuclear security administration to the Pentagon is just one option. The administration could also be converted to a standalone civilian agency.

Washington could also follow the example of France and Britain and establish a national body to handle the problem of nuclear waste. Britain ‘s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, for example, a public body established in 2004, oversees the cleanup of Britain ‘s nuclear legacy, including research facilities, reactors and a huge plutonium production site.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama said, ”We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” That is a hopeful image and a lofty aim, but it cannot happen until the Department of Energy is freed from the nuclear weapons establishment.

Brokaw on Global Warming in Peperation to His Wednsday Evening Discovery Channel Special on Global Warming

March 17, 2009

For someone who supposedly “retired” in 2004, Tom Brokaw has kept plenty busy. He filled in as moderator of Meet the Press after the death of Tim Russert, pitched in on campaign coverage for NBC and completed a documentary on global warming in 2006. Covering the environment isn’t a fad for Brokaw – the South Dakota native is a longtime outdoorsman, often fly-fishing near his home in Montana and hiking with green friends like Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. The former NBC Nightly News anchor just finished a new climate change documentary – Global Warming: The New Challenge with Tom Brokaw – which airs on the Discovery Channel on Mar. 18. Brokaw spoke to TIME in New York shortly after his return from a biking trip to Africa. Apparently semi-retirement isn’t so bad. (See pictures of this fragile earth.)


Why do a follow-up to your 2006 global warming documentary?


A number of things have changed, and it’s getting worse, not better. We wanted to keep track of what was going on. And the bottom line is, Discovery wanted it.


What has changed for you since 2006?


There is a much greater consciousness about it now. [Energy tycoon] Boone Pickens says he is doing wind power not because of global warming but because of our reliance on foreign energy, but it’s still part of that broad mosaic. Al Gore wants to take our electric power grid completely off carbon. There is going to be a new climate change treaty by the end of the year, and hopefully we’ll be a signatory to it. It’s back on the radar screen politically, and a lot of people are paying attention to it. You look at the changes that Wal-Mart alone had made, and they are pretty profound.


Do you sense that we’re moving towards a consensus in America that global warming is real, and that we need to take action?


It’s complex. I think that the vast majority of the scientific community – and much of the public – believes that it is real. It’s a matter of consequence, how we’re going to deal with this. There are a lot of complex parts. We haven’t arrived at a common intersection of those parts yet, but that’s not surprising given the nature of the issue we are dealing with.


Do you think the recession could actually amplify this push?


You don’t want to get me started on this! There are so many opportunities in this recession for breaking down antiquated ways of doing business, and not just in the environment. You can have fresh thinking during a crisis: how can we help the environment and save ourselves some money. Packaging is a perfect example. It makes me crazy to buy two Advil in $40 worth of plastic packaging. Yvon Chouinard, who runs Patagonia, is one of my close personal friends and a big environmentalist. He tells a wonderful story: he wanted to sell underwear without any packaging. I said, ‘You’ll go broke!’ But he just put a rubber band around it and sales went up 35%. He uses that as an example of a way to think outside the box.


The recession is dominating our attention right now. But climate change is a problem whose consequences are serious, but always far off. Do you worry that we’ll lose focus on global warming?


Yes, but I do think there is focus on this. Rahm Emanuel has a great line: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Jeff Immelt at General Electric has another great line, that this isn’t a recession, but a reset. It’s a reexamination of how we’ve been living. Maybe the McMansion era is crashing to an end. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a big house, but the ethos of what you need is changing.


So you think we could see real changes in America values?


Yes, and we should have that dialogue. You don’t have to go around in a sackcloth and ashes. I just came back from Africa and we won’t live like they do in villages. But when you come back to America you become conscious of how much stuff we discard on a daily basis and just how much stuff we have. I have a friend who has a saying: it’s not what you want, it’s what you need. That’s a good mantra.


Where do your own environmental interests come from?


I grew up in rural South Dakota and I had a real Tom Sawyer childhood. We lived out in a remote part of the state on the Missouri River and my life was camping and hunting and fishing in a pristine environment. And that continued in my adult years when we lived in California and my wife and I did a lot of backpacking in the Sierras. But when we moved to L.A., smog became a fixed part of our lives. I remember taking my 2-year-old daughter in L.A. to a doctor, and she said, “Oh, you can tell she was born in Los Angeles. It shows up in her lungs.” That’s terrifying. I thought, my God, if it shows up in a 2-year-old’s lungs, that’s a real problem. So I think about my grandchildren and what kind of lives they want to have. And frankly, I’m just enthralled by pristine nature. When I’m in Montana on my ranch or down in Yellowstone and looking at the crest of a hill and a strand of trees or a herd of elk, it’s just thrilling for me.


The childhood you had is becoming more and more rare in the U.S. The younger generation – so key to solving global warming – is growing up increasingly divorced from nature. Does that worry you?


A little bit, but it’s pretty heartening when you’re out West and you see people pouring into the region. Even in the East, you see the Appalachian Trail still get a lot of traffic, so I’m not that concerned. What does worry me is the younger generation thinking that all the answers can be found on a small screen or a keyboard. You won’t solve this problem by hitting “delete.” It takes boots on the ground and animated thinking.


What kind of impact do you think President Barack Obama will have on this shift to greener behavior?

He has to get through the economy first. I don’t know whether he’s taking on too much. I think this past week might be a lesson for him. They are starting to hear from their extended family financial advisers. Not people in the White House but those who are saying, “If this is war, you need all the boots on the ground you have.” When Warren Buffet says that this is economic Pearl Harbor, he’s raising the flag. I was with a very senior person in their wider counsel recently, and he said they aren’t going far enough, fast enough. If you don’t get consumer confidence back in the economy and there is this paralysis, it’s hard to move on to other areas, like health care or education.

Do you see any similarities between the events that brought us into the recession and the factors that are driving climate change?

I do – there’s a lot of excess in both. We are all guilty – present company included. I had a rare interview with Henry Ford II when he was still alive running the car company in the 1970s. I said to him, “I’m hearing from Ford dealers who say they want more economical cars during the energy crisis and you’re not producing them.” And Ford said, “I want to tell you something about the auto industry. The American driver want to put his foot down and go as fast as possible.” So the car industry has been wrong in the past.

What kind of green changes have you made in your own lifestyle?

We have solar energy on the ranch in Montana, and it’s worked out really well. My wife is on a real kick. I think the whole hybrid thing is ridiculously out of hand, but we have three hybrids – one for ourselves, and two for our daughters. I walk out of stores without plastic bags. My wife carries one in her purse. I just stuff everything into my pockets and ask the clerk not to arrest me.

Given all that you’ve seen in a lifetime of reporting, are you hopeful that we’ll be able to tackle climate change?

I’m not sure. I’ve seen a lot of good things. When we used to go to the Black Hills as a child, to the creeks near the Homestead gold mine, and my parents would warn me away from the water because it was so polluted from the runoff. But it’s gotten much better since then. We’ve cleaned up the air in Los Angeles. I really do detect a big appetite now for making profound changes